History Of Science

CO2 Edenburgh: Can art change the climate? – Spirited discussions Pt. 1

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

922087632f7564901a6892281f6cadc2In amongst the people handing out leaflets for shows and holding up placards for restaurants, there are a couple of people wearing white coats walking around bearing standards reminiscent of Roman Legions, though these are not surmounted by eagles, but rather by LED displays reporting CO2 levels.  These are ‘Carbon Catchers’.

They are part of the Collins and Goto Studio‘s project called CO2 Edenburgh: Can art change the climate? and are working out of the Art, Space and Nature MFA‘s Tent Space at Edinburgh College of Art.  The data that the Carbon Catchers are collecting plus the data from a number of Festival venues (theatres, galleries and public spaces) is all feeding into a wall of information.  Creative Carbon Scotland, commissioners of the project, have relocated their office to the space so they are living with the blinking red LED’s as well as a background pattern of noise generated from the data and emitted into the space.

Yesterday, at the first of a series of discussions (see below for details of the next ones), Tim Barker, a media theorist from Glasgow University, talked about the history of interference – the point at which we became aware of the invisible. So in 1886 there was unexpected interference on the new Austrian telephone system. This was electromagnetic radiation from the sun was picked up by the copper wires. (Also Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant used to just sit and listen to the noise on the wires.) So there’s something about noise overpowering signals that’s pretty important in the history of science. Or maybe its the converse – as someone said yesterday afternoon, what’s important is, “…the desire to uncover the new by a disruption and treatment of the real.”

Why does this matter? Because our relationship to CO2 is pretty much at a similar stage – scientists are monitoring it (and it was a research station in Hawaii which first recorded passing 400ppm earlier this year). But we only think we understand what all this means. Actually the sensors that form part of this project are taking readings ranging from 320ppm to over 1000ppm. Walking around the City Centre yesterday with one of the team of ‘Carbon Catchers’ taking readings, we were getting different levels along the Cowgate. Someone commented during the discussion in the afternoon that they were surprised that the CO2 level in the room was going down because there were 10 people talking and no obvious carbon sink.

Harry Giles, the other invited speaker, challenged us to set aside the two cultures argument and pay more attention to the militaristic nature of the territory we are in (and he wasn’t talking about the Edinburgh Tattoo). The maps and sensors being used enable the surveillance of the environment in ways that has both tactical and strategic purposes. Art has often been allied with power

We might argue that the arts are engaged in both tactical and strategic purposes. There is an avowed intention on the part of Collins and Goto to challenge assumptions about aesthetics. There is not a lot of ‘sublime’ or ‘picturesque’ in this environmental art work. We might well ask where is the aesthetic? Surely this is just public engagement in science – how is it different from something that the Science Festival might put on? And if it’s public engagement with science, is it effective? Is this a Kaprowesque blurring of art and life? Is this like Burrough’s cut-ups, something as normal as a book cut up to offer new meaning, and at once so strange that it appears as just noise without meaning? If we are dealing with things that we can’t perceive with our senses, and which have timescales that we find difficult to comprehend, then should the aesthetic be that of, as someone suggested, a horror movie?  Don’t we need a new aesthetics for a new experience and a new scale?

On the strategic level Creative Carbon Scotland aims to green the cultural sector supporting organisations and institutions to reduce their carbon footprints. This is of course part of a pattern of attention on environmental issues which means that climate change comes up in pretty much every conversation, every organisation has a climate change policy (and it would be fun to make a collection of these), and the sustainability question in grant applications may in the future include environmental alongside economic criteria. But usually these programmes are ‘business to business’ rather than ‘business to consumer’ (if we accept that an exhibition in the Edinburgh Art Festival is by and large a ‘consumer’ facing affair).

So the events programme, a series of four conversations which ecoartscotland has helped to put together, is perhaps the point where we break out of these sorts of dichotomies.

  • On Saturday (10th August) the conversation will track across art, technology, activism and knowledge with the help of Dr Wallace Heim (of the Ashden Directory) and Joel Chaney (from the Energy Research Group at Heriott Watt).
  • The following Wednesday (14th August) focusing on “Environmental Monitoring” we be joined by Prof Andrew Patrizio (art historian and head of research at Edinburgh College of Art) and Jan Hogarth, (Director of Wide Open and one of the key people behind the imminent Environmental Art Festival Scotland).
  • An for the last event “Going beyond the material” (21st August) we’ll be joined by Samantha Clark, artist, and Lucy Mui, student, activist and Theatre Manager for Bedlam.

Full details on the CO2Edenburgh website.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Powered by WPeMatico

Lovely Weather in Inishowen, Ireland: what is climate art?

This post comes to you from An Arts and Ecology Notebook

Post image for Lovely Weather in Inishowen, Ireland: what is climate art?

“how does data feel, taste, sound, look, smell?” Roger Malina, Leonardo, keynote speaker, Lovely Weather art and climate change conference, LetterKenny RCC, Nov 2010

I was briefly in Oxford this week and I had a little time to pass so I wandered into one of the oldest Museums of the History  of Science in the world. They had a display of early Islamic scientific instruments, many were for searching and understanding the skies. They were astonishingly beautiful as well as functional and were later adopted and developed through the middle ages and renaissance in Europe. Many instruments made for understanding the heavens were made in metal, some in ivory (couldn’t help thinking they looked like antique iphones as some were a similar shape, colour and size to our recent technology). The  industry and intent to know the world by all methods has long been with us.  I was thinking about this in reference to a recent Lovely Weather Culture and Climate Change conference that I attended in north-west Donegal last November. An excellent 2 day event celebrated the Lovely Weather climate artists residency project; an innovative Per Cent for Art Irish Public Art programme across 5 electoral areas, co-led by the local Donegal County Arts Office and the Letterkenny Regional Culture Centre  and co-curated by Roger Malina and Annick Bureaud of the long established Art & Science publication, LEONARDO/Olats. This was to my knowledge the first substantial culture and climate event in Ireland and the projects were in the main very thought-provoking and detailed (a catalogue of the projects can be obtained from the Donegal Arts Office).

Roger Malina, editor of Leonardo, was the keynote speaker. Roger is also an astronomer and Director of Astronomy Centre in Marseille, France. A point he made in his talk, while referencing his own experience in astronomy which has seen an explosion in technical instrument development, data production, now further accelerating with the sharing of online data networks, is that over the centuries,  scientists no longer use their senses but their instruments  to understand the world. He argued that in reference to climate change, that artists have such an important role… ‘in making science intimate….not just translating science  or making science pretty.’ He spoke of many artists who were attempting to engage with science, from many diverse practices, who were taking scientific data  and using it in their creative practices. He now sees that we are moving from a world of ‘data scarcity to data plenty but today, while we are data rich, we are meaning poor’. He described this as an epistemological (a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge) inversion. I was particularly interested how Roger described that we are in a ‘data flood… but artists can work successfully embedded in data, where data becomes an element (material) to use.” He concluded by asking us, “how does data feel, taste, sound, look, smell?”

There was an excellent example of data embedded centrally in one of the Lovely Weather residencies. Carbon Footprint is a multi-disciplinary work by Canadian born (now settled in Ireland) artist in residence Seema Goel. The piece uses local wool, spinning and knitting as a metaphor to explore climate change, carbon capture, and micro-economies in Inishowen, County Donegal, Ireland. This project worked on many levels – making hurricane data intimate in the creation of knitted items (see the knitted hat above that relates to hurricane weather data), bringing together local people of all ages to use local materials and forgotten skills (a working example of ’social sculpture’), making visible the loss of  previous local industries to global, unsustainable supply chains (while Donegal has a rich history in wool products,  this has almost entirely disappeared and local wool items are surprisingly imported from afar – this a surprise to many Irish in the audience as Donegal is famed for its fibre heritage), and creating a legacy of community craft activities in the region. It’s delightful to think of the climate data discussions, mixing with knitting patterns discussions and cups of tea (it reminded me of the global crochet coral reef project that came to Ireland’s Science gallery that I discussed last year  – both show the huge upsurge in local materials and fibre craft and just a reminder: this is also the international year of craft, as well as forests). The success in this project are the climate conversations made tangible in the community and unlike many ‘climate  and art and science projects that I’ve encountered, the legacy of the project continues:  knitting and spinning workshops continue for every skill level, from people with an interest that want to get started to those who want to share skills. For more information please contact mccartney.ruth@gmail.com

To follow is a guest post by Margaret Mc Laughlin on another of the Lovely Weather residency projects – all about dead zones (Marbh Chrios) off the coast of Ireland – a fantastic audiovisual, data come community sound project.

 

An Arts & Ecology Notebook, by Cathy Fitzgerald, whose work exists as ongoing research and is continually inspired to create short films, photographic documentation, and writings. While she interacts with foresters, scientists, and communities, she aims to create a sense of a personal possibility, responsibility and engagement in her local environment that also connects to global environmental concerns.
Go to An Arts and Ecology Notebook